A FATHER who abducted his baby daughter and fled to Belgium has been spared jail for the best interests of his child.

The man, a Belgian national, took his daughter from their flat in Bournemouth without the mother’s permission and spent seven months in his home country before a court order forced him back.

A sentencing hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court on Friday, February 24, heard how the defendant “felt he had no choice” but to take his baby after his relationship with her mother broke down.

The defendant and the girl’s mother had their daughter in 2020 while still in Belgium. After some difficulties in their relationship, the pair moved to Bournemouth for a fresh start.

After several months, however, their relationship further broke down and was ended by the girl’s mother. They did, however, continue living in the same flat together.

On May 13, 2021, the girl’s mother recorded an argument with the defendant in which she said she would not consent to him moving back to Belgium with their daughter – which the defendant agreed he would not do.

Bournemouth Echo:

Six days later, the mother awoke to find neither her ex-partner nor daughter at the home. Upon contacting the defendant, he said he had taken the girl “on holiday” to Belgium as he “couldn’t handle” the state of their relationship.

“You can’t just take my daughter,” the mother was quoted as saying in response.

The defendant kept the child in Belgium for seven months. Althea Brooks, prosecuting, said the defendant took the baby “at a crucial time” in her development and highlighted how he only returned her to the UK after an International Court of Justice order was made.

The father did maintain contact with his ex-partner throughout his time in Belgium and would FaceTime her with their daughter.

In a victim impact statement, the girl’s mother told the court: “What’s the point of my life without my child? It broke my heart to see my daughter only on video calls.”

Upon returning to the UK, the man was arrested. Having initially pleaded not guilty to the abduction of his daughter, he changed his plea on day two of his criminal trial and admitted an offence of abduction of child by parent.

Bournemouth Echo:

Nick Robinson, mitigating, drew the court’s attention to various submissions made about the defendant’s good character and conduct as a father. Members of the mother’s family even praised him as a father who loved his daughter and that prison would not be appropriate.

He said: “There was not an intent to harm. It was a decision made by somebody in very difficult circumstances, which he regrets.

“He wasn’t thinking right, his judgment was impaired, he felt he had no choice. This was an emotional decision rather than a rational decision.”

Sentencing, Recorder Nicholas Haggan QC agreed that a prison sentence for the defendant “would have a severe impact” on the child, who he noted as being “the most important person in this case”.

Recorder Haggan QC sentenced the man to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.